A Point at Issue!
A Point at Issue!Introduction
Kate Chopin's "A Point at Issue!" appeared, along with "Wiser than a God," in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on October 27, 1889. Its publication marked the beginning of a decade of literary work by the author that culminates in her controversial masterpiece The Awakening. "A Point at Issue!," which now can be found in her Collected Works, announces Chopin's interest in the dynamics of male-female relationships, a subject she would explore in various ways throughout the body of her work.
The relationship at the heart of "A Point at Issue!" is that of Charles and Eleanor Faraday, who pride themselves on their progressive attitude toward marriage. Determined to maintain their independence, they embark on a test of their resolve, which involves a long period of separation. While they are able to withstand the social pressure to conform to traditional gender roles, they ultimately cannot ignore the dictates of their own hearts. Charles and Eleanor's developing relationship illuminates the human desires that inevitably complicate the quest for freedom.
Katherine O'Flaherty was born on February 8, 1851, in St. Louis, Missouri to Thomas and Eliza (Faris) O'Flaherty. Her mother introduced the family to the prominent French-Creole community in
St. Louis, a group that would appear later as characters in her daughter's fiction. Her father's successful business ventures as a merchant granted their inclusion in the city's high society. When Katherine was four, her idyllic childhood came to an end after her beloved father's sudden death in a train accident. Thereafter, she was raised by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, whose storytelling enthralled Katherine.
Katherine was an avid reader during her school years. After she graduated in 1868, she was caught up in the social life of St. Louis but maintained her independent streak, which eventually prompted her to question the position of women in her society and time. In 1870, she married businessman Oscar Chopin with whom she would have six children. She and Oscar, whose background was French-Creole, moved to New Orleans, where they gained entrance into the city's social community. Oscar's business collapsed, however, forcing the family's relocation to Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, which would become the fictional backdrop for many of Chopin's short stories. After her husband died in 1883 of swamp fever, Chopin moved back to St. Louis and began writing in an effort to cope with the loss.
Chopin's first published work, a poem titled "If It Might Be," appeared in the Chicago periodical America in 1889. After being introduced to the work of French author Guy de Maupassant, she published two short stories: "Wiser than a God" and "A Point at Issue!" These works established the subject matter that would dominate her fiction—an examination of the intricacies of male-female relationships. In 1890, her first novel, At Fault, was published with mixed reviews.
During the next few years, she wrote over three dozen stories and sketches, many of which were published in magazines like Youth's Companion, Harper's Young People, and Vogue. In 1894, a collection of twenty-three of her stories appeared under the title Bayou Folk, which earned her a reputation as an important writer about local color. Her short story collection A Night in Acadie also received strong reviews when it appeared in 1897.
Her most famous and most celebrated work, The Awakening, produced a public outcry after its publication in 1899. Readers claimed the novel's focus on the sexual awakening of a young married woman was pornographic and immoral. The negative response, coupled with her inability to publish another collection of short stories due to their controversial subject matter, tarnished her reputation and effectively ended her literary career, although she continued to write. In 1904, she began to have health problems, and on August 22 of that year, she died in St. Louis of a cerebral hemorrhage. Since her death, her literary reputation has grown considerably. She is now considered to be one of the most important American realists.
"A Point at Issue!" begins with the wedding announcement of Eleanor Gail and Charles Faraday, as printed in the Plymdale Promulgator, the couple's local newspaper. Eleanor is not happy with the announcement because she considers it to be "an indelicate thrusting of herself upon the public notice." She had agreed to the announcement as a concession to social rules, hoping that she would not have to make such concessions in the future.
Her new husband, Charles, regards her as the ideal woman; he is happy that she is "logical" and will study subjects with him such as philosophy and science. When Eleanor declares that she wants to learn to speak French fluently, the two decide that she will study in Paris while he spends most of the year in America. After their European honeymoon, Eleanor rents rooms in Paris and Charles returns to Plymdale, planning to spend the following summer with her. The couple's behavior outrages Plymdale society, which is indignant at the idea that "two young people should presume to introduce such innovations into matrimony." The two write each other regularly.
Charles begins spending his free time with the Beatons, a local family, finding them "all clever people, bright and interesting." Mr. Beaton is a colleague at the university where Charles teaches. Charles thoroughly enjoys the company of this happy family, especially that of their blissful and self-absorbed youngest daughter, Kitty. Charles writes to Eleanor expressing his admiration for the young girl, dismissing as illogical the possibility that his wife would be jealous, but Eleanor does not send back a response with her usual promptness. When a letter finally does arrive, it expresses an "inexplicable coldness" in tone. However, he soon receives several letters from his wife "that shook him with their unusual ardor."
After a winter apart from his wife, Charles leaves for Paris to see her. Before he arrives, there is a description of Eleanor pacing her rooms, obviously disturbed, fighting "a misery of the heart, against which her reason was in armed rebellion." The narrator does not reveal the nature of the misery that causes Eleanor to collapse in "a storm of sobs and tears."
When Charles arrives, he sees only his familiar, idealized vision of his wife, but then notices that she has become more beautiful. As they converse, a housemaid appears, eyeing Eleanor "with the glance of a fellow conspirator" and holding a card in her hand. Eleanor hastily thrusts the card in her pocket and turns toward Charles "a little flustered."
A few days later, Charles interrupts a conversation between Eleanor and a handsome man in her parlor. The narrator notes that "they were both disconcerted" and that Eleanor "had the appearance of wanting to run away, to do any thing but meet her husband's glance." Charles accepts his wife's assertion that her visitor was "no one special." A few days later, however, when Eleanor tells him vaguely that she has an urgent appointment, he begins to question his wife's fidelity.
Unable to rid his mind of "ugly thoughts," Charles walks around Paris. While sitting at a café, he sees Eleanor riding in a carriage with the same man who had come to see her. Both appear in high spirits. Charles's initial reaction is to "tear the scoundrel from his seat and paint the boulevard red with his villainous blood."
When Charles returns to their apartment, he finds Eleanor waiting impatiently for him. She leads him excitedly into the parlor where he meets the handsome stranger. Eleanor presents him to Charles as an artist who has just completed a portrait of her, intended as a surprise for Charles's arrival. She notes that its completion had been delayed, hence the necessity, Charles understands, for their meetings.
As Charles begins his plans to return home, Eleanor asks him whether he believes that she has gained a good command of French, and he answers in the affirmative. She then suggests he book a passage home for two, which fills him with happiness. Then, he inquires about the coldness of the letter she had sent him a few months ago, and Eleanor admits that it was written in response to his declaration of his feelings for Kitty. Eleanor reveals her failure to suppress jealous emotions but insists that she believes that her husband has remained faithful. Astonished at her admitted jealousy, Charles concludes to himself, "but my Nellie is only a woman after all." The narrator closes the story noting the fact that Charles has conveniently forgotten his own jealousy.
This is the name the narrator gives to the artist who paints Eleanor's portrait as a surprise gift for Charles. Eleanor's actions suggest that she had some romantic feelings for the artist, who is described as quite handsome. He fades, however, into the background when the portrait is completed and Eleanor decides to return home with Charles.
Kitty, the youngest Beaton daughter, has just returned from boarding school when Charles begins his relationship with her family. She is a headstrong young woman, "with a Napoleonic grip … keeping the household under her capricious command," described as self-centered. "Her girlish charms" however, coupled with the "soft shining light of her eyes" touch Charles to such a degree that he admits his desire to kiss her. Yet, while nothing in the story suggests that he ever acts on this desire, his acknowledgement of his feelings toward the young woman stirs Eleanor's jealousy and perhaps her own attention to Monsieur l'Artiste.
Margaret, the eldest Beaton daughter, becomes a representative feminist in the story. Her community views her as "slightly erratic" for her participation in the Woman's Suffrage movement, which includes the wearing of "mysterious" clothes as a statement of solidarity with her sisters and freedom from constraining social custom. The narrator critiques her actions, noting that her clothes produced "the distinction of a quasi-emancipation," which, "defeated the ultimate purpose" of her cause.
Mr. Beaton is a fellow professor at the university where Charles teaches. He is an older man but retains a youthful vitality, which "formed the nucleus around which [his] family gathered, drawing the light of their own cheerfulness." Charles enjoys the company of Beaton and his family in Eleanor's absence.
Mrs. Beaton, Mr. Beaton's wife, represents the traditional wife and mother. Her "aspirations went not further than the desire for her family's good, and her bearing announced in its every feature, the satisfaction of completed hopes."
Charles, a professor of mathematics at Plymdale University, originally falls in love with Eleanor Gail because of her beauty. Later, her logical mind makes her what Charles considers his "ideal woman." Charles creates an ideal vision of marriage, insisting that he and his wife will reject the traditional restrictions on individuality that are typical of the institution. His convictions are strong enough to endure public condemnation, although the critics appear to be harsher in their assessment of Eleanor's behavior than of his.
Charles tempers his wife's earnestness with humor and optimism that prevents their explorations into the ideas of the times from acquiring "a too monotonous sombreness." He has an outgoing and friendly nature that "invited companionship from his fellow beings."
Charles has an active mind and prides himself on his careful thought processes. He comes to conclusions by the slow "consecutive steps of reason." Concluding that Eleanor should have the opportunity to fulfill her desires, he adapts himself quite readily to the long separation from her, resuming his "bachelor existence as quietly as though it had been interrupted but by the interval of a day."
His optimistic vision of his wife and their unconventional marriage, however, blinds him to the realities of human nature. He does not see the danger in his affections for Kitty, nor does he understand that sharing those feelings with Eleanor will cause a very human, jealous response. He also fails to recognize that same fault in his own character when he becomes enraged over his suspicions that Eleanor is having an affair with the handsome Frenchman he sees in her company. Ironically, he quickly falls back into ascribing stereotypes when he faults his wife's jealously, noting that really, she is "only a woman after all" while forgetting his own display of that same emotion.
- Penguin Audiobooks has published an excellent cassette tape of The Awakening and Selected Stories (June 1996), performed by Joanna Adler, which includes readings of "The Storm" and "Story of an Hour," two of Chopin's most anthologized stories.
Eleanor Faraday enters into a non-traditional marriage with Charles, both respecting the other's sense of individuality and needs. Eleanor is Charles's "ideal woman," intelligent and intellectually curious. She becomes the perfect companion for Charles as the two engage in various programs of study. Although she has a logical mind, "sharp in its reasoning, strong and unprejudiced in its outlook," she also displays a quick intuition, a nice counter to Charles's slower, more methodical thought processes. Her earnestness and intensity are balanced by Charles gentle humor. He also appreciates her confidence, "unmarred by self-conscious mannerisms."
Eleanor has a history of diverging "from the beaten walks of female Plymdaledom," a tendency she exhibits from the start of the story when she complains about having to put her marriage announcement in the local newspaper. This type of public recognition disturbs her and she has previously avoided it. Her refusal to go against her nature and to make expected social concessions has resulted in her being branded a "crank." When she refused to have a pre-announcement of the wedding published, the public "while condemning her present, were unsparing of her past, and full with damning prognostic of her future." Yet, Eleanor stands "stoically enough" in the face of public criticism. For her, "the satisfying consciousness of roaming the heights of free thought, and tasting the sweets of a spiritual emancipation" far outweighed the slights.
Eleanor, like her husband, takes pride in her independence and her sense of reason. Yet, again as is the case with her husband, both qualities are tested during the course of the story and found wanting. Her immediate reaction to Charles's declaration of his feelings for Kitty is jealousy, and perhaps, the narrator hints, an urge to take a lover. Her utter despondency before Charles arrives suggests that she may have entered into a relationship with Monsieur l'Artiste. The narrator never makes the relationship clear and avoids any insight into her motivation, but her actions suggest that she has difficulty accepting Charles's independence and honesty when it concerns his attention to another woman.
Eleanor, however, is able to quickly restore her relationship with Charles when she explains her business relationship with Monsieur l'Artiste and declares that she wants to return to America. Ironically, her honesty in admitting her jealousy over Kitty prompts her husband to regard her in a traditional light, as an emotionally flawed woman.
The story begins with Charles and Eleanor determined to retain their freedom within their marriage, which they insist will not "touch the individuality of either; that was to be preserved intact." Priding themselves on their progressive attitudes, they make an unconventional decision to separate for most of the year while Eleanor pursues her desire to study French. After they part, each feels the pang of separation, but they are confident in the rightness of "a situation that offered the fulfillment of a cherished purpose."
Topics for Further Study
- Read over the passage where Eleanor has an emotional breakdown before Charles arrives in Paris. Chopin never provides enough information for readers to understand what causes this outburst. Rewrite the ending of the story, providing a clear explanation of Eleanor's despair and how it affects the outcome. How does the story's meaning change?
- Compare and contrast the subject of marriage in Chopin's The Awakening and "A Point at Issue!" How do the women deal with their positions similarly and differently?
- Create a storyboard outlining each scene for a cinematic version of the story.
- Investigate the women's movement at the end of the nineteenth century. How did it influence American society? What kind of opposition did it face? Was it successful?
Soon, however, jealousy interferes with the couple's determination to maintain their personal freedom. Charles's loneliness prompts him to seek out the company of the Beatons, especially their young, attractive daughter Kitty. Assuming that reason will temper any other emotion, he tells Eleanor of his attraction to the girl. Naturally, Eleanor cannot contain her jealousy and delays her customary letter to Charles. When the letter finally arrives, it contains "an inexplicable coldness."
Charles experiences his own bout with jealousy when he arrives in Paris. After he comes across a handsome Parisian in the company of his wife, he becomes uneasy. His mood affects his vision of the beautiful city as he finds "the inadequacy of every thing that is offered to his contemplation or entertainment."
His jealousy "drove him to ugly thoughts," which are compounded when he sees Eleanor and the Frenchman in high spirits, riding in a carriage. Incensed, Charles contemplates tearing "the scoundrel from his seat and paint the boulevard red with his villainous blood." He is eventually able to temper his emotions with reason. Yet, the incident prompts him to reevaluate his insistence on freedom in marriage. He admits, "here was the first test, and should he be the one to cry out, 'I cannot endure it."'
By the end of the story, the dynamic of Charles and Eleanor's relationship shifts from freedom to repression. Both have already experienced emotions that, they determine, need to be repressed because they are illogical. Yet Charles's suspicions of Eleanor's potential infidelity prompt him "to wonder if there might not be modifications to this marital liberty of which he was so staunch an advocate."
Eleanor also comes to the conclusion that absolute freedom of expression is not appropriate in a successful relationship. When Charles is stunned by her admission of jealousy in response to his feelings for Kitty, she admits, "I have found that there are certain things which a woman can't philosophize about, any more than she can about death when it touches that which is near to her." Ultimately, her desire to strengthen her relationship with her husband supersedes her desire for independence, and she decides to return home with Charles.
In her article for Modern American Women Writers, Wai-chee Dimock notes Chopin's impressionistic style in many of her works including The Awakening. She argues that "things are transitory in her writings—nothing is fixed, irrevocable, or predetermined." As a result, Dimock insists, "there is no last word in Chopin. Light and shadows play in her fiction; moods come and go. Nothing stands still, and everything could have been otherwise." Chopin uses this technique in "A Point at Issue!" when she focuses on Eleanor's experiences in Paris. The impressionistic vision she supplies never allows the reader to determine the causes of Eleanor's despair or what motivates her to leave Paris. Her relationship with the artist who paints her portrait is also left vague. As a result, readers are unable to judge her actions, which was most likely Chopin's intention. Chopin's narrators rarely comment on characters' behavior, which effectively redirects the readers' attention not to motivation, but to consequences. This stylistic device becomes an appropriate method to employ in her investigations of how morality can become merely a social, not ethical, construct.
Chopin symbolizes the conflicts Charles and Eleanor will face in their marriage when, at the beginning of the story, she describes their wedding announcement in the local paper. The announcement is "modestly wedged in between" an offer to mail the paper to subscribers who will be "leaving home for the summer months" and "an equally somber-clad notice" of a local company's "large and varied assortment of marble and granite monuments." Charles, in fact, will be one of the subscribers who will be out of town when he visits his wife in Paris during the summer months. The reference to gravestones suggests the inevitable death of independence that Eleanor will face by the end of the story.
The Beaton family becomes another important symbol in the story. Mr. and Mrs. Beaton typify the traditional marriage: he holds an important teaching position at a university, engaging his mind and his talents while his wife concerns herself exclusively with the operations of the household. While her sister Margaret has joined a radical feminist movement, Kitty Beaton turns her attentions to more conventional activities, "keeping the household under her capricious command." Her combination of youthful vigor and traditional role-playing obviously attracts Charles, whose conservative slant emerges more noticeably by the end of the story.
Realism became a popular form of painting, especially in works by Gustave Courbet, and literature in the mid nineteenth century. Writers involved in this movement, such as Gustave Flaubert, turned away from what they considered the artificiality of romanticism to a focus on the occurrences of everyday, contemporary life. They rejected the idealism and celebration of the imagination typical of romantic novels and instead took a serious look at believable characters and their often problematic interactions with society. To accomplish this goal, realist novelists focused on the commonplace and eliminated the unlikely coincidences and excessive emotionalism of romantic novelists.
The realist movement in America included a conscious turning away from the structure and content of the works of the American Renaissance. Writers like Samuel Clemens discarded the traditional optimism and idealism of Thoreau and Emerson and the romantic forms and subject matter of Hawthorne and Poe. Instead, they chronicled the strengths and weaknesses of ordinary people confronting difficult social problems, like the restrictive conventions under which nineteenth-century women suffered. Writers who embraced realism used settings and plot details that reflected their characters' daily lives and realistic dialogue that replicates natural speech patterns.
Compare & Contrast
- Late Nineteenth Century: In 1888, the International Council of Women is founded to mobilize support for the woman's suffrage movement.
Today: Women have made major gains in their fight for equality. Discrimination against women is now against the law.
- Late Nineteenth Century: A new term, the
- New Woman" comes to describe women who challenge traditional notions of a woman's place, especially the privileged role of wife and mother. These challenges are seen as a threat to the fabric of the American family.
Today: Women have the opportunity to work inside or outside the home or both. However, those who choose to have children and a career face difficult time management choices due to inflexible work and promotion schedules.
- Late Nineteenth Century: Feminist Victoria Woodhull embarks on a lecture tour in 1871, espousing a free love philosophy, which reflects the women's movement's growing willingness to discuss sexual issues.
Today: Women have the freedom to engage in premarital sex and to have children out of wedlock. The issue of single parenting caused a furor in the early 1990s when then Vice President Dan Quayle criticized the television character Murphy Brown for deciding not to marry her baby's father. Today, however, single parenting has become more widely accepted.
Naturalism is a literary movement that emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in France, America, and England. Writers included in this group, like Stephen Crane, Emile Zola, and Theodore Dreiser, expressed in their works a biological and/or environmental determinism that prevented their characters from exercising their free will and controlling their fates. Crane often focused on the social and economic factors that overpowered his characters. Zola's and Dreiser's work include this type of environmental determinism coupled with an exploration of the influences of heredity in their portraits of the animalistic nature of men and women engaged in the endless and brutal struggle for survival.
Literary critics have found elements of realism and naturalism in Kate Chopin's depiction of the difficult struggle women at the turn of the last century faced as they tried to establish a clear sense of self. The realistic struggles in her fiction raise complex questions about how much influence women have over their destinies.
The New Woman
At the close of the nineteenth century, feminist thinkers began to engage in a rigorous investigation of female identity as it related to all aspects of a woman's life. Any woman who questioned traditional female roles was tagged a "New Woman," a term attributed to novelist Sarah Grand, whose 1894 article in the North American Review identified an emergent group of women, influenced by J. S. Mill and other champions of individualism, who supported and campaigned for women's rights. A dialogue resulted among these women that incorporated radical as well as conservative points of view.
The most radical thinkers in this group declared the institution of marriage to be a form of slavery and demanded its abolition. They rejected the notion that motherhood should be the ultimate goal of all women. The more conservative feminists of this age considered marriage and motherhood acceptable roles only if guidelines were set in order to prevent a woman from assuming an inferior position to her husband in any area of their life together. This group felt that a woman granted equality in marriage would serve as an exemplary role model for her children by encouraging the development of an independent spirit. Chopin's works enter into this dialogue, exploring a woman's place in traditional and nontraditional marital unions.
Per Seyersted, in his biography on Chopin, noted that after her first two short stories "A Point at Issue!" and "Wiser than a God" had been published in 1889, editors told Chopin that her stories would continue to be published if she could create more traditional female characters. Luckily, Chopin did not listen. Over the next decade, her works would focus on women who struggled to break away from conventional standards. As a result, the public often found Chopin's work shocking. After the publication of her masterful novel The Awakening in 1899, in which Chopin made her boldest statement on the necessity for personal expression, public outrage eventually resulted in the end of her literary career.
During the ten years between the publication of her first short stories and her novel, Chopin earned a reputation as an important local writer. Her short story collections Bayou Folk, published in 1894, and A Night in Acadie, which appeared in 1897, gained solid reviews that praised her accurate portraits of bayou life and her concise style. Chopin collected her more radical stories of male-female relationships previously rejected for publication into a third collection, A Vocation and a Voice, but she was unable to find a publisher.
The response to The Awakening was over-whelmingly negative. Many reviewers attacked the character of Edna Pontiellier, including one in Public Opinion who was "well satisfied" by Edna's fate, and another in the Nation who complained of the "unpleasantness" of his response to the main character. The book was subsequently banned from many libraries due to its controversial and subversive subject matter. One of the few positive reviews, from a critic for the New York Times Book Review, praised Chopin's artistry in the novel and responded to Edna with "pity for the most unfortunate of her sex."
The public's anger over the novel effectively ended Chopin's literary career. As Tonnette Bond Inge notes in her article on Chopin in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Chopin "passed from the literary scene almost entirely unappreciated for her pioneering contributions to American fiction." Yet in the 1930s, a new generation of readers began to appreciate her short stories, and she again earned praise as a describer of local color. In the 1950s, The Awakening began to be recognized as an important literary work. Robert Cantwell, for example, wrote in the Georgia Review of Chopin's "heightened sensuous awareness" and insisted that the work was "a great novel."
In the 1960s, scholars heralded the complex psychological portraits and sociological themes in Chopin's fiction. Their reviews, coupled with Per Seyersted's definitive biography and edited collection of her complete works, established her reputation as one of the twentieth century's most important authors.
Perkins is an instructor of American literature and film. In this essay, Perkins analyzes Chopin's exploration of the difficulties inherent in the establishment of a nonconventional marriage.
A recurring theme in much of Kate Chopin's work is women's difficult struggle for emancipation. In her article for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Tonette Bond Inge notes that as Chopin explores this theme, she does not avoid "showing the sacrifices and suffering associated with the journey to self-realization." This struggle becomes the main focus of Chopin's masterpiece The Awakening as it documents Edna Pontillier's journey from the restrictions of marriage to a discovery of self that affords her a sense, albeit an ironic one, of freedom. As it traces Edna's difficult process of awakening to selfhood, the novel reflects society's determination to force women to conform to expected roles.
As in The Awakening, most of Chopin's fiction chronicles the movement of her characters from bondage to freedom, outlining the social obstacles that impede this journey. Yet Chopin's earliest work is not reflective of this pattern. "A Point at Issue!," one of her first published short stories, begins with the main character already emancipated. At the beginning of the story, Eleanor, a strong woman with a clear sense of her own desires, has entered into an unconventional marriage with Charles Faraday that affords her the opportunity to express her individuality outside the traditional boundaries of this union. However, while she has been able to withstand social pressure to conform to delineated female roles, she ultimately cannot ignore the dictates of her own heart. As a result, by the end of the story, she has moved from freedom to the bondage of a traditional marriage. In her depiction of Eleanor's journey, Chopin exemplifies the human as well as social limitations that impede the quest for freedom.
What Do I Read Next?
- The Columbia Guide to American Women in the Nineteenth Century (2000) presents a comprehensive history of the conditions of American women in the nineteenth century.
- The Awakening, published in 1899, is Chopin's masterful novel about a young woman who struggles to find self-knowledge and inevitably suffers the consequences of trying to establish herself as an independent spirit.
- In his play A Doll's House (1879), Henrik Ibsen examines a woman's restricted role in the nineteenth century and the disastrous effects of these limitations on her marriage.
- Kate Millet's Sexual Politics (1969) studies the history and dynamics of feminism.
- "Wiser than a God," published along with "A Point at Issue!" in 1889, presents a different view of an unconventional woman who tries to determine her own life and destiny. It is available in Chopin's Collected Works.
Chopin created Eleanor as a reflection of the growing women's movement in the latter part of the nineteenth century, when an increasing number of women questioned traditional notions of marriage and motherhood. As a "new woman" Eleanor clearly rejects the primacy of social judgments of behavior, developing her own sense of her identity. At the beginning of the story, she has agreed to enter into a marriage with Charles Faraday, but only because they have both determined that their union will not restrict either partner's individuality. They idealistically view marriage, as noted by Barbara H. Solomon in her introduction to The Awakening and Selected Stories, as "an unfinished, incompletely defined institution," where husband and wife are continually making "new decisions" and not playing "mechanical roles."
The first new decision Eleanor makes is to not publish an engagement announcement in the local paper. Eleanor had "endured long and patiently the trials that beset her path when she chose to diverge from the beaten walks of female Plymdaledom." Her overwhelming need to roam "the heights of free thought, and taste the sweets of a spiritual emancipation" had given her the strength to endure social condemnation.
Charles appreciates Eleanor's "clear intellect" and "the beautiful revelations of her mind" and so he encourages her to engage with him in the study of the world around them. They seem well suited to each other, each complimenting and balancing the other's qualities. Her intellectual curiosity piques his own while his humor and optimism temper her earnestness and intensity. She is to him an ideal woman, one who will not reshape her identity into the traditional role of wife. They decide "to be governed by no precedential methods. Marriage was to be a form, that while fixing legally their relation to each other, was in no wise to touch the individuality of either." As a result, marriage becomes for her "the open portal through which she might seek the embellishments that her strong, graceful mentality deserved."
Per Seyersted, in his biography on Chopin, writes that Eleanor is not a reflection of the more radical tenets of the emerging women's movement. He notes that Eleanor will enter into marriage with Charles only on an equal footing, but she accomplishes this by cooperating with him "without any of the antagonism often attributed to her emancipationist sister." Seyersted argues that the story promotes real emancipation, "not the 'quasiemancipation' [Chopin] authorially attributes to women showing their protest by wearing strange clothes, but the true, inner kind of growth and independence." Eleanor and Charles's union, as the narrator notes, is based on "trust in each other's love, honor, courtesy." Chopin, however, did not ignore the complexities of such a union, especially when human nature intervenes.
As Chopin traces the complications that arise in the couple's marriage, she illustrates her point that the ideal of freedom that Charles and Eleanor envision can never be obtained in any kind of meaningful relationship. When the two are separated by their individual desires for fulfillment, Chopin suggests that human nature will inevitably impede this type of modern redefinition of love and marriage.
Neither Charles nor Eleanor is influenced by social dictates. The couple stoically face up to the public outcry when they decide that Eleanor will study in Paris and that Charles will continue his teaching at home. The society of Plymdale suffers "indignant astonishment at the effrontery of the situation… that two young people should presume to introduce such innovations into matrimony!" The gossips incorrectly conclude that "he must have already tired of her idiosyncrasies, since he had left her in Paris." Yet when they question the prudence of Eleanor living alone in Paris ("of all places… Why not at once in Hades?"), they illustrate the possibility of complications that could arise in this ideal marriage, complications that the couple have refused to acknowledge. As a result, the two ignore the gossip and write each other frequent, long letters after they are separated.
Neither, however, had considered the impact of the loneliness and subsequent need for companionship that would result from such a separation. Charles's genial nature prompt him to seek out the company of the Beaton family, who welcomed him frequently into their home. Chopin inserts a note of irony into Charles's relationship with the Beatons, who enjoy a traditional family dynamic, with Mr. Beaton teaching at the nearby university while Mrs. Beaton's "aspirations went not further than the desire for her family's good, and her bearing announced in its every feature, the satisfaction of completed hopes." The comfort Charles finds in their company suggests that his nature is more conventional than he realizes.
His appreciation of the Beaton family extends to their daughter Kitty, whose "girlish charms" and "soft shining light of her eyes" sexually attract Charles. Determined to promote honesty in his marriage, Charles writes Eleanor of his attraction to the girl, apparently convinced that his wife's progressive thinking and logical sensibility will override any feelings of jealousy. Charles, however, miscalculates, ignoring the strength of this very human emotion.
Chopin suggests that Eleanor responds with jealousy to Charles's attentions to Kitty, as evidenced by her late and cold letter to him. Her subsequent actions, however, are not as clearly drawn. Not long before Charles's arrival in Paris, Eleanor is overcome with "a misery of the heart, against which her reason was in armed rebellion." Eventually she crumbles "into a storm of sobs and tears," a "signal of surrender."
The narrator refuses to interpret the scene, explaining that the reason for Eleanor's despondency "will never be learned unless she chooses to disclose it herself." Chopin only hints at the possibilities: Eleanor may have entered into a romantic relationship with the artist who is painting her portrait and is coming to the painful decision to give him up; or she recognizes that she cannot bear to be separated from her husband and so has decided to give up Paris and return home with him. Either explanation for her outburst involves a very human response. Eleanor could have decided to turn to another in her loneliness, suspecting that her husband was doing the same. Or perhaps she could have come to the realization that her love for Charles was more important than her need for independence, and thus to ensure that Charles would no longer depend on the Beatons for company, she would give up Paris. The only clue Chopin will allow reflects the emergence of Eleanor's humanness during her breakdown: "Reason did good work and stood its ground bravely, but against it were the too great odds of a woman's heart, backed by the soft prejudices of a far-reaching heredity."
As is the case with many of Chopin's heroines, Eleanor finds the obstacles to her independence overwhelming. She has been able to withstand social pressures to conform to traditional notions of a woman's role, but she cannot hold up against the demands of her own nature. By the end of the story, Eleanor retains a small degree of freedom; she, not Charles, makes the decision for the two of them to return home. Yet, Charles's final response to her suggests that their union will deteriorate into a conventional relationship. When she admits that his attentions to Kitty stirred her jealousy, he forces her back into a stereotype, insisting "I love her none the less for it, but my Nellie is only a woman after all." Chopin adds a nice touch of irony in response, noting that "with man's usual inconsistency," Charles had forgotten his own bout of jealousy.
By the end of the story, Eleanor and Charles have given up their idealistic vision of the efficacy of the modern marriage, and Eleanor has relinquished a good measure of her independence. In this bittersweet story, Chopin illustrates a woman's journey from freedom to repression, suggesting that the requirements of the human heart complicate the best of intentions.
Source: Wendy Perkins, Critical Essay on "A Point at Issue!," in Short Stories for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.
DeFrees is a published writer and an editor with a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Virginia and a law degree from the University of Texas. In the following essay, DeFrees discusses the early feminist tendencies of fiction writer Kate Chopin.
Can women and men be equal? The question appears prosaic and even simplistic. But it elicits a larger question: what is equality? Is it something that exists in nature, or does it spring from the machinations of society? How Kate Chopin answers that question in her short story, "A Point at Issue!," is a manifestation of both her liberal mindset—especially by mid-nineteenth century standards, which was when the story was written—and of the blossoming of that mindset from within the confines of a society holding fast to the notion that a woman's position in the hierarchy of the household was strictly beneath her husband. Chopin produces a sly retelling of the happy-ever-after wedding tale and sets up for her readers a revolutionary theory of equality within the union of marriage. The ending does not promise that the vows of equality and mutual respect will be lasting, but it does something more: it turns the tables on what were then perceived as conventional patterns of thought about marriage.
In some ways, the story reads like a sitcom: a couple meets; the man and woman fall in love and attempt to set up an arrangement wherein they share their lives as equals; the two separate temporarily to pursue their individual interests; misunderstandings ensue, but all is gilded with a happy ending. On the surface, it is almost a tale of manners, a comedy of errors. It is easy to envision any number of television stars—dependant upon the generation of the reader, of course—starring in the televised version of the story, or to imagine a laugh track when Charles trips over his chair as he starts to chase down his wife, who is riding in a carriage with another man. But what Chopin is doing in "A Point at Issue!" is far subtler than the broad comedic gestures of a sitcom. In the span of a short tale, Chopin lays down the tenets of her vision of women's liberation—to be seen as an intellectual equal, and to be given the same opportunities for cerebral advance as men—then layers those desires with societal expectations, exposing the hurdles that stand, even today, in the way of men and women being able to operate on an equal plane. This is a common topic today, but at the time Chopin wrote "A Point at Issue!," the thoughts were revolutionary—so much so that Chopin's early work, such as this story, contains outlines of her later stories that loudly decry the inequality between husband and wife.
The story begins with shame. Eleanor Gail shudders at the sight of her name in the local newspaper's small notice proclaiming: "MARRIED—On Tuesday, May 11, Eleanor Gail to Charles Faraday." Although the notice is inobtrusive—"modestly wedged"—to Eleanor, it is an invitation for the rest of society to scorn at her. Eleanor has previously refused to hold a fancy wedding including members of the community and has made a conscious choice to step away from the expected paths of other young ladies. The narrator explains that Eleanor sees the marriage announcement as "an indelicate thrusting of herself upon the public notice" and that when she sees the notice, "she was plunged in regret at having made to the proprieties the concession of permitting it." Eleanor chose to "diverge from the beaten walks of Plymdaledom," with "Plymdaledom" representing a marriage to someone in one's own social and economic status. From the first paragraph, the reader knows that Eleanor is different, that she is not afraid of going against societal norms.
In fact, Eleanor knowingly accepts the appearance of being "relegated to a place amid that large and ill-assorted family of 'cranks."' For, regardless of "the disappointed public" she is an "ideal woman" in the eyes of her husband. She expresses regret only for having given any concessions to societal norms at all. The private life she has chosen affords her an equality that cannot be weighted in public terms. While the ladies of Plymdale were "condemning her present … unsparing of her past, and full with damning prognostic of her future," Charles Faraday "had caught a look from her eyes into his that he recognized at once as a free masonry of intellect," a woman "able to grasp a question and anticipate conclusions by a quick intuition." Charles and Eleanor's courtship lasted for over a year, and in that time, rather than consider how many children to have or where they should live, they "knocked at the closed doors of philosophy—a field of study not normally open to women. Rather than court each other with family histories and idle chatter, Eleanor and Charles "went looking for the good things of life."
Charles's admiration for Eleanor's intellect did not flag upon the end of their courtship; in marriage, they vowed that "each was to remain a free integral of humanity, responsible to no dominating exactions of so-called marriage laws." As Chopin expounds on the agreement between Eleanor and Charles regarding their relationship, the reader begins to see the full thrust of Chopin's opinions regarding a woman's right to think for herself, whether married or single. The couple scoffed at tradition and decided, in their marriage, to be "governed by no precedential methods." Chopin created a new marriage contract through Charles and Eleanor, one that, according to Cynthia Griffin Wolff's review in American Writers, closely emulated Chopin's own marriage. Individuality was to remain intact, made possible through "trust in each other's love, honor, courtesy, tempered by the reserving clause of readiness to meet the consequences of reciprocal liberty."
It is the final statement in that train of thought, with its "reserving clause," that opens the door to the plot, and the ultimate point, of Chopin's story, and foreshadows that there will, indeed, be repercussions to their novel model of marriage. Despite the young couple's pre-planned, rational approach toward their relationship, when matters of the fidelity impinge upon "reciprocal liberty," it is instinct that takes root as intellect takes flight. A test of marital fidelity reaches the bounds of rational thought, and the reader sees doubt take over even the most idealistic minds. Suspicion takes hold, and the "new marriage contract" is tested by the harshest of judges: the jealous heart.
After a long honeymoon, Charles ironically leaves Eleanor in Paris—the city of love—to follow her intellectual interests while he returns to the Unites States to run his business. Though they miss each other when apart, all is well between them while this arrangement ensues, and they carry on their intellectual relationship through letters. They are redoubtable in their powers of rationality and adherence to their modern arrangement, unfettered by envy or uncertainty. But Charles and Eleanor fall prey to the seduction of doubt.
It would seem, accordingly to the plot, that Eleanor is the first to fall jealous. But this line is blurred by Chopin's word choices, which hint at the disdain she feels toward a man so callous as to expect his wife to be always above the caste of jealous society. Regarding the letter that Charles writes to his wife, the narrator explains that "with the cold-blooded impartiality of choosing a subject which he thought of neither more nor less prominent than the next, he descanted at some length upon the interesting emotions which Miss Kitty's pretty femininity aroused in him." What woman would not question the effusive praise and admitted sexual attraction related by her husband about another woman? As the narrator explains: "Reason did good work and stood its ground bravely, but against it were the too great odds of a woman's heart, backed by the soft prejudices of a far-reaching heredity." Here Chopin seems to indicate that a woman is, by her nature, the weaker sex, prone to fits of jealousy. But the events that follow indicate something more profound: when Chopin refers to "far-reaching heredity," it is the heredity of mankind, not just of women. It is the eternal condition of man to be jealous, to want to possess another, and to be certain of one's place in the world. Charles does not think twice about the words of praise he has related to his wife about another woman because he is faithful, but his fidelity does not make him immune to his own jealousy.
Charles comes to Paris after a long absence, and one day he sees his wife in a carriage, gaily conversing with another man. Charles immediately thinks the worst, but just as he considers leaping from his seat to "follow and demand an explanation," his "better self and better senses [come] quickly back to him." But are these really his better senses and his better self? Had he leapt from where he sat in the Parisian café, bounded to the horse carriage and bellowed in anger at the sight of his beloved carrying on with another man, might not that have been the more honest presentation of his feelings for Eleanor? The reader is left to ponder these questions, for the event never comes to pass. Charles reasons himself out of his state of vengeful anger, and Eleanor never learns that Charles experienced his jealous rage.
Both husband and wife fall prey to the same natural weakness, but the way that they relate their feelings to each other in this regard hints at a rupture in their union that is likely to create a permanent emotional divide. By the end of the story, it could be interpreted that, because Eleanor asks her husband to take her back to the states with him, she has somehow given the power in the relationship to her husband. But it may just as easily be interpreted that, in fact, by evidencing her desire to be with him, and in admitting her jealousy, she has opened her heart, and her soul, to the possibility of true intimacy and equality. When he responds with shock at her belief that he "cared" for another woman, she believes him heartily, and says, "there are certain things which a woman can't philosophize about, any more than she can about death when it touches that which is near to her." Eleanor has brought her humanity to bear on the misunderstandings she and her husband have shared, and it brings out the best in her. Charles, on the other hand, says nothing to Eleanor about his doubts, and instead reduces Eleanor from her status as "pre-eminent" and "his ideal woman" to that of "only a woman," like any other. The reader might at this point agree with Charles that Eleanor has a woman's frailty and that Charles is the stronger of the two, but for the final sentence of the story: "With man's usual inconsistency, he had quite forgotten the episode of the portrait." Charles, in seeing his wife's weakness exposed so clearly, stands tall in his righteousness, forgetting his own identical imperfection.
Chopin seems to be winking at the reader, offering an irony to those sympathetic to her views. Hers is a tentative leaning to the possibility of the intellectual emancipation of women, and a precursor to her most acclaimed work, The Awakening, in which she more openly calls for the emancipation of women from the stifling confines of marriage, to which her society clung so tightly. It is unclear whether it was Chopin's deliberate choice to speak subtly about the infidelities of a man's mind in regard to his wife, or the result of a young writer still timid about bearing her beliefs about equality to a public unaccustomed to the notion of a wife as the equal of her husband. In either case, the end result is a delightfully subtle and slyly political reproach of men's refusal to recognize the full potential of their wives. In "A Point at Issue!," Charles may think he has pegged his wife as "only a woman," hypocritically forgiving her for her petty jealousy, but it is actually Eleanor who truly understands the nature of the relationship between man and wife. And, it was Chopin who saw that, for all the whispers of equality in the nineteenth century, women remained placed behind their men.
Source: Allison DeFrees, Critical Essay on "A Point at Issue!," in Short Stories for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.
In the following essay excerpt, Seyersted examines Chopin's take on feminist issues in her first three stories (as well as a "A Point at Issue!") within the context of Chopin's idea of a modern female.
Kate Chopin was never a feminist in the dictionary sense of the term, that is, she never joined or supported any of the organizations through which women fought to get "political, economic, and social rights equal to those of men." Not only did she shy away from societies and issues in general, but she probably regarded the New World feminists as unrealistic when they so closely allied themselves with efforts to elevate men to their own supposedly very high level of purity; she undoubtedly concurred with the early George Sand, who felt that woman largely had the same drives as man and therefore also should have his "rights."
Though American literary permissiveness was slowly being somewhat extended in matters connected with the senses—we might point to the fact that R. W. Gilder published Whitman and that Reedy's Mirror gave space to sex-scientists like Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis—the feminists turned their back on a novel like Sarah Grand's The Heavenly Twins because the author dared to combine her plea for a single standard with a discreet mention of male promiscuity and its results. As usual, Kate Chopin was a detached observer, a skeptic who could not share any easy optimism. When a friend praised Mrs. Grand's book, in which there is much talk about women's rights, but no suggestion that females as well as men have sexual urges, she exclaimed in her diary: "She thinks 'the Heavenly Twin' a book calculated to do incalculable good in the world: by helping young girls to a fuller comprehension of truth in the marriage relation! Truth is certainly concealed in a well for most of us."
Just as Mrs. Chopin saw that the problems confronting her sex were too complicated to admit of easy solutions, she was also well acquainted with the manifold tendencies in the women themselves. It seems more than an accident that her three earliest extant stories are each in turn devoted to one of what we might call the three main types of women: the "feminine," the "emancipated," and the "modern" (to use the terminology of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex), and that the tension between the two leading components of this triad was to reverberate through her whole oeuvre.
"Euphrasie," Kate Chopin's first tale from 1888, is the story of a feminine or traditional heroine, that is, a woman of the kind who accepts the patriarchal view of her role very pointedly expressed, for example, in the marriage sermon of Father Beaulieu of Cloutierville: "Madame, be submissive to your husband … You no longer belong to yourself."
In a society where man makes the rules, woman is often kept in a state of tutelage and regarded as property or as a servant. Her "lack of self assertion" is equated with "the perfection of womanliness," as Mrs. Chopin later expressed it in a story. The female's capital is her body and her innocence, and she should be attractive and playful enough for the man to want her, while showing a reticence and resistance which can gratify his sense of conquest, or "the main-instinct of possession," as the author termed it in another tale. What man wishes, writes Simone de Beauvoir, "is that this struggle remain a game for him, while for woman it involves … [a recognition of] him as her destiny." In the man's world, woman should accept a special standard for the "more expansive" sex, and for herself, she should eagerly welcome the "sanctity of motherhood." As Mme. de Staël's Corinne is told: Whatever extraordinary gifts she may have, her duty and "her proper destiny is to devote herself to her husband and to the raising of her children."
Euphrasie is a dutiful daughter, and also a loyal fiancée as she tries to hide even from herself that she has suddenly fallen in love with someone else than the man she is engaged to. In the tradition of the feminine woman, she accepts the role of the passive, self-obliterating object as she makes no attempt to influence her fate, and she is willing to break her heart and proceed with the marriage, even though she considers it immoral to kiss her fiancé when she does not love him. (It is interesting to note that the author, in her very first story, on this point echoes George Sand; she does not openly offend by saying in so many words that Euphrasie should have kissed the other man when it becomes evident that they are mutually attracted, but that is what she implies.) As behooves a feminine woman, she lets the men decide her destiny: When her fiancé learns the truth by accident, he sets her free, thus—in Euphrasie's words—saving her from the sin a marriage to him would have meant to her.
As has been noted before, Kate Chopin put this story aside for a few years and destroyed the next two she wrote. The original draft of "Euphrasie" is lost, and we do not know why she titled the tale after the girl's fiancé when she later revised and shortened it. Nor do we know anything about the two other stories, except that the first was set on Grand Isle, and that the second, "A Poor Girl," was offensive to editorial eyes, perhaps because the author already here was too open about untraditional urges in women.
The next of Kate Chopin's tales which has come down to us is "Wiser than a God." It is the story of Paula Von Stoltz, a young woman who works hard to become a concert pianist. She loves the rich George Brainard, but when he asks her to follow a calling that asks "only for the labor of loving," she replies that marriage does not enter into the "purpose of [her] life." George insists that he does not ask her to give up anything; she tells him, however, that music to her is "something dearer than life, than riches, even than love." This is too contrary to George's idea of woman's role; calling Paula mad, he lectures her and declares that even if the one who loved him had taken the vows as a nun, she would owe it to herself, to him, and to God to be his wife. But Fräulein Von Stoltz leaves to become an internationally renowned pianist, and her later constant companion is a composer who is wise enough not to make any emotional demands on her.
Paula largely answers to Simone de Beauvoir's definition of the emancipated woman that is, a female who "wants to be active, a taker, and refuses the passivity man means to impose on her"; who insists on the active transcendence of a subject, the pour soi, rather than the passive immanence of an object, the en soi; and who attempts to achieve an existentialist authenticity through making a conscious choice, giving her own laws, realizing her essence, and making herself her own destiny.
The pride indicated in Paula's family name does not manifest itself in a haughty attitude toward her admirer; she is soft-spoken compared to the impetuous, youthful George who insists that she is throwing him into "a gulf … of everlasting misery." But she speaks up when she realizes they are in two different worlds, that he represents the patriarchal view of woman, and she the view of Margaret Fuller that women so inclined should be allowed to leave aside motherhood and domesticity and instead use their wings to soar toward the transcendence of a nonbiological career. "Wiser than a God" has something of Mme. de Staël's Corinne in that George for a moment believes he can accept a wife who lives not solely for him and his children; unlike the French heroine, however, Paula tells her suitor that life is less important to her than the unhampered exertion of what she considers her authentic calling and her true self.
The self-sacrifice represented by Corinne's suicide to set Oswald free is unthinkable in the Kate Chopin heroines who are awakened to unusual gifts or impulses in themselves and to self-assertion. "Euphrasie" proves that it is not female submission as such which the author leaves out in her writings, but only the concessions to sentimentality and conventionality, the violations of the logic in the various types of heroines. The author combines in these two tales a detachment and objectivity with a tender understanding and respect for both the feminine and the emancipated young lady.
In the third story we have from Mrs. Chopin, "A Point at Issue,"—she turns to modern woman, that is, the female who insists on being a subject and man's equal, but who cooperates with the male rather than fighting him, without any of the antagonism often attributed to her emancipationist sister. Such modern women were not uncommon at the time, and when they married, some decided not to take their husband's name, that sign of ownership, but to keep their own. In 1895, for example, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch printed the statements which such a woman and her husband had made when they entered their "advanced matrimony." She not only kept her maiden name, but also declared that she and her suitor entered marriage with the understanding that both should preserve their individuality and that he should not "let this marriage interfere with the life work she had chosen."
Unlike Paula of the previous story, Eleanor Gail of "A Point at Issue" does wed her suitor, Charles Faraday; they decide, however:
… to be governed by no precedential methods. Marriage was to be a form, that while fixing legally their relation to each other, was in no wise to touch the individuality of either; that was to be preserved intact. Each was to remain a free integral of humanity, responsible to no dominating exactions of so-called marriage laws. And the element that was to make possible such a union was trust in each other's love, honor, courtesy, tempered by the reserving clause of readiness to meet the consequences of reciprocal liberty.
The Latin proverb which Kate Chopin gave as a motto for the previous story: "To love and be wise is scarcely granted even to a god," should more appropriately have been put at the head of "A Point at Issue." While Euphrasie disregards the conflict between love and reason because she has been indoctrinated with the idea of leaving the responsibility for her life to a man, and Paula avoids it by devoting herself to art and making her own decisions, Eleanor is the one really to be put to the test, as she, like her husband, believes that she can both love and be wise as they share a life in "Plymdale" as equals.
The two progressive lovers seem well fitted for their venture. Eleanor, who combines her "graceful womanly charms" with a lack of self-consciousness, has chosen to "diverge from the beaten walks of female Plymdaledom … [and taste] the sweets of a spiritual emancipation." This strange person is, like her mathematician husband, "possessed of a clear intellect: sharp in its reasoning, strong and unprejudiced in its outlook. She was that rara avis, a logical woman." The two are ready to take broad views of life and humanity as they live in the harmony of a united purpose and "a free masonry of intellect." Being more learned, Charles leads the way when they, for example, study science, but with her "oftentimes in her eagerness taking the lead."
Faraday agrees with his wife that she shall spend a year or two alone in Paris learning French. Once he tells her in a letter how a girl had momentarily charmed him, feeling no qualms in doing so as he saw it as unimportant, and, besides, "Was not Eleanor's large comprehensiveness far above the littleness of ordinary women?" While he thinks no more of the matter, Eleanor cannot escape oldfashioned jealousy; nor can Charles when he joins her in Paris for the summer and one day sees her with another man, who later turns out to be a painter doing her portrait. For a moment he wants to kill the "villain," but reason takes over, even before he learns that his jealousy was unfounded.
As a result of these incidents, both retreat one step from their advanced stand. Eleanor rejoins her husband in America, and, being unable to forget how jealousy made her suffer like a "distressed goddess," she has gained insight into her own nature and knows that, as she tells Charles, "there are certain things which a woman can't philosophize about." He has learned nothing from his agony, however, while Eleanor's affliction causes him to slip into the traditional attitude of the male when he patronizingly concludes: "I love her none the less for it, but my Nellie is only a woman, after all." And the author adds: "With a man's usual inconsistency, he had quite forgotten the episode of the portrait."
In her first two stories, Kate Chopin had betrayed a possible involvement with marriage only when she in "Wiser than a God," with what looks like mild irony, speaks of "the serious offices of wifehood and matrimony" which constitute all of life to the woman Brainard eventually marries. When there is a somewhat more pronounced suggestion of an engagement in the third tale, it is again on the issue of woman and matrimony. The author by no means makes it clear that she speaks only for Eleanor when she writes: "Marriage, which marks too often the closing period of a woman's intellectual existence, was to be in her case the open portal through which she might seek the embellishments that her strong, graceful mentality deserved." It is interesting to note the surprising juxtaposition of marriage and death with which the story opens when it informs us that the wedding announcement of the Faradays was printed side by side with a "somber-clad" advertisement for "marble and granite monuments."
The impression we are left with by this tale is that Kate Chopin sympathizes with Eleanor even more than with Euphrasie and Paula and that she wishes the Faradays success in their venture to live as perfect equals. She appears to favor female emancipation, not the "quasi-emancipation" she authorially attributes to women showing their protest by wearing strange clothes, but the true, inner kind of growth and independence. She also seems to favor the couple's lack of preconceptions as they attempt to make "innovations into matrimony" by introducing a marital liberty. But Mrs. Chopin saw the complexities of this point at issue: "Reason did good work," she observes in connection with Eleanor's fight with jealousy, "but against it were the too great odds of a woman's heart, backed by the soft prejudices of a far-reaching heredity." Among the inherited factors imposing themselves upon even a modern woman and a modern man are fundamental impulses, such as jealousy, and notions, such as that of male supremacy.
The idea of man's superiority is emphasized as Charles falls back into the age-old concept that his wife is "only a woman." It is perhaps a little surprising to find inconsistency attributed to him, a quality which traditionally typifies the so-called changeable women; how ever, it serves to stress his male overevaluation of himself: As a female, Eleanor is not expected to know much; therefore she can allow herself to feel that "she knew nothing," and at the same time be open for learning. Charles, on the other hand, is a man, thus a superior being, and as such he does not need to be taught anything.
With her three first stories, Kate Chopin had stated her major theme: woman's spiritual emancipation—or her "being set free from servitude, bondage, or restraint," as the term has been defined—in connection with her men and her career. The sensuous is not touched upon in these tales, except in the case of Faraday. His "stronger man nature" may refer to expressions of eroticism, and we are told, apropos of the matter dealt with in his letter, that "it is idle to suppose that even the most exemplary men go through life with their eyes closed to woman's beauty and their senses steeled against its charm." The modest success of At Fault gave the author a certain encouragement and selfconfidence, and seemingly as a result of this, she began, as she entered the second stage of her career, to deal with woman's emancipation also in the field of the senses.
Source: Per Seyersted, "A More Powerful Female Realism," in Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography, Louisiana State University Press, 1969, pp. 99–115.
Cantwell, Robert, Review of The Awakening, in Georgia Review, Winter 1956.
Dimock, Wai-chee, "Kate Chopin," in Modern American Women Writers, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1991, pp. 63–78.
Inge, Tonette Bond, "Kate Chopin," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 78: American Short-Story Writers, 1880–1910, edited by Bobby Ellen Kimbel, Gale Research, 1989, pp. 90–110.
Review of "A Point at Issue!," in the Nation, August 3, 1899.
Review of "A Point at Issue!," in the New York Times Book Review, June 24, 1899.
Review of "A Point at Issue!," in Public Opinion, June 22, 1899.
Seyersted, Per, Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography, Louisiana State University Press, 1969.
Solomon, Barbara H., "Introduction," in The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin, Signet, 1976.
Wolff, Cynthia Griffin, "Kate Chopin," in American Writers, Supplement I, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1979, pp. 200–26.
de Saussure Davis, Sara, "Kate Chopin," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 12: American Realists and Naturalists, edited by Donald Pizer, Gale Research, 1982, pp. 59–71.
Davis places Chopin in the realist tradition and discusses how the "unconventional" heroine in "A Point at Issue!" relates to those in her other works.
Rocks, James E., "Kate Chopin's Ironic Vision," in Louisiana Review, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1972, pp. 110–20.
Rocks analyzes Chopin's use of irony in several of her works.
Skaggs, Peggy, "Chapter 6: 'Miscellaneous Works,"' in Kate Chopin, Twayne's United States Author Series Online, G. K. Hall, 1999.
Skaggs compares "A Point at Issue!" to "Wiser than a God."
Wolff, Cynthia Griffin, "Kate Chopin," in American Writers, Supplement I, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1979, pp. 200–26.
Wolff provides an overview of Chopin's work, including a negative assessment of "A Point at Issue!," claiming the story to be "too neatly constructed, symmetrical, and sterile."
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